“Wow this is awesome man… you’re so talented!”
Every creative knows these kind of comments. I don’t know about you, but for me this is not a compliment. It’s almost an insult.
Well, maybe not really an insult, but definitely a dismissive word. It means that someone has looked at the work you’ve been sweating over and said – “well, it was easy for him; he has talent. He is gifted”.
What about the creative process? The hours, the sleepless nights spent obsessing over an idea, the countless failed attempts that ended up in the trash, the hundred drafts you did before you got to a script that you felt confident enough showing anyone; the film that you did and everybody said was good, but you knew it actually wasn’t; the 20th drawing you threw away before coming back to the first one – what about all that? Does that count for nothing? What about all those years you spent on an endless quest to get better at what you do?
“You’re so talented”. How easy.
My creative process on an animated water effect. it’s not “talent” – it’s research, analysis, trying multiple options, and many hours of hard work.
When I was younger I used to love being called talented. It meant I was special. At the age of ten, doing portraits of neighbors, drawing and copying comics, I didn’t have to prove anything. It was fun to be doing my thing and to be adored. I was more observant than other kids, and more motivated to keep that title.
When I was older I got cocky, so I went to study animation – a practical art form, as I saw it. Suddenly, there were plenty of talented people like me. So in a room full of talented people, what makes a person stand out?
Whatever it is, it’s definitely not talent.
Talent is not an achievement
What is talent, anyway? It’s a word that people hide behind to justify the fact that they lack the persistence required to sit on their ass for many hours and practice. It’s a word used by people who are afraid to stare at a blank page, and confront it.
Talent is a starting point. It could be a mental starting point, such as vivid imagination, or the ability to stubbornly keep on trying, or being highly perceptive or intelligent. It could be a physical starting point too – like being agile, or fast, or being able to jump higher than other kids. But it is not an achievement; an achievement can only be gained through learning and practicing.
Everyone is talented in something. Everyone. There is nothing exceptional in that. The exceptional thing is for a person to actually do something about it.
The only way you can really actually use talent, is through your stubbornness and character. You have to find a process that works for you and hone it to perfection. And you have to be willing to take the hits. It’s the ability to take the hits and keep moving forward, that makes you great at what you do.
Your Incentive Incident
Every artist must find, or develop for himself, a creative process that works best for him (or her). I, for example, am a person of research and testing (as can be seen in the process example above). I dig deep into my idea before I put it on paper. I study every ingredient before I finally bake the cake. My personality drives me to break down the machine and understand what makes it tick. I work more confidently when I know the reasons and history behind a choice. It also connects me to my work, on a deeply personal level.
It all comes down to this: if you have the discipline and willingness to put in the time, you can learn to do just about anything. Anyone can sculpt, paint, draw and write. Anyone. Talent has nothing to do with it.
As a scriptwriter in the making, I like to think of talent as the catalyst of a movie – you know, that phone call in the middle of the night that sets the whole story in motion. Talent is the one relative advantage you have, which allows the movie called “your creative career” to happen in the first place. The rest is up to the protagonist: you.
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